From Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine:

Best Practices for Medical School Application

KPSOM Dean for Admissions and EID provides helpful tips for aspiring medical students

June 21, 2022

Applying to medical school might seem like a daunting task, but there are steps applicants can take that may improve their chances of acceptance. Here, KPSOM Senior Associate Dean for Admissions and Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Lindia Willies-Jacobo, MD, sheds light on the 2023 application timeline and admissions cycle and offers helpful tips to assist candidates in putting their best foot forward.

“It is important for applicants to do their homework prior to applying to medical school,” said Dr. Willies-Jacobo. “It’s important to review the website of the school(s) to which one is applying, to understand each school’s mission, review the medical school’s admission requirements, speak with medical students at the schools to which you are applying, if possible, and connect with admissions counselors for key insider information.”

Getting Started

The medical school application process generally occurs in three phases, which include the primary application, secondary application, and interviews. Dr. Willies-Jacobo further advises applicants to get organized by creating a spreadsheet of the schools to which they are applying and keep a meticulous record of the following dates:

  1. Submission of your primary application (which takes 4-6 weeks for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to verify).
  2. Receipt of secondary application.
  3. Due date for primary and secondary application.

Primary Application

Most U.S. medical schools use The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), the AAMC's centralized medical school application processing service, as the primary application method for first-year entering classes. Details that are considered during this portion of the application process include demographic information, schools attended, biographical information, course work (GPA), work/activities, letters of recommendation, personal comments, and standardized tests (MCAT). Many applicants prepare for the MCAT months in advance of their test date and the application stage, which allows ample time for sufficient test-taking preparation and study time. 

“While some candidates take the MCAT multiple times, I generally advise students to give themselves three to six months between test-taking to allow adequate time for test preparation and to avoid burnout,” said Dr. Willies-Jacobo.

Secondary Application

Each medical school has a secondary or supplemental application process, which allows applicants to differentiate themselves from other applicants, demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the medical school to which they are applying, and showcase their ability to think critically. Questions applicants might receive on a secondary application include:

  • Describe an experience or time interacting with people who are different from you or adhere to a different set of cultural norms. What did you learn about yourself from that experience? (This question allows applicants to show cultural humility, self-awareness, insight, and share a breadth of experiences.)
  • Tell us about a difficult or challenging situation you have encountered and how you dealt with it. (This question allows applicants to demonstrate grit, resilience, hardship, and self-awareness.)
  • How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your medical school journey? (This question allows candidates to exhibit self-awareness, maturity, and critical thinking.)

The secondary application generally costs $50 to $100 and varies in length from school to school, ranging from a few questions to more lengthy essays. The application is typically sent a few weeks after a candidate’s AMCAS application is verified and may be provided to applicants in a written or video format. While some medical schools screen applicants prior to sending the secondary application, others send the application automatically. A candidate’s application is considered complete only after the secondary application has been submitted.

“The best advice I can give applicants is to apply early to give themselves a better chance at an interview invitation (since slots can fill up quickly), keep an updated list of your accomplishments, and work hard at obtaining letters of recommendation,” said Dr. Willies-Jacobo. “Lastly, I advise candidates to keep their personal statements simple, clear, and purposeful; ask others to review the statement for syntax, clarity, tone, word/character limit, etc.; and seek a mentor early to help navigate the application process and medical field.”

Learn more about KPSOM’s admissions cycle.

Medical School Application Timeline and 2023 Admissions Cycle

January-March 2022

  • Familiarize yourself with medical school admission requirements.
  • Register for the MCAT.
  • Request letters of recommendation.

April-June 2022

  • Take the MCAT.
  • Begin to work on primary applications for upload in late May or early June.

July-September 2022

  • Work on and submit secondary applications.
  • Interview prep and interview.

October-December 2022

  • Work on and submit secondary applications.
  • Interview prep and interview.
  • Admission offers.

January-Summer 2023

  • Update schools.
  • Interview.
  • Connect with mentors.
  • Follow AAMC “traffic rules” or policies and procedures that govern how an applicant handles acceptances.